The Art of the Group Gift

Photo: midiman

Last year, I gave a friend of mine a laptop. Another friend received a guitar. I got a trip to California.

Are we all fabulously wealthy? No way! Our circle of friends makes liberal use of "group gifts." By pooling everyone's resources, we can give people a high-end gift they will really use and love, instead of a pile of tchotchkes that will be put aside and forgotten once the party is over.

A group gift is a pretty simple concept: everyone pitches in the $10-$30 they would have spent on a birthday or holiday gift for Susie, and Susie gets something expensive that she really wants. While simple, group giving can also become a sticky situation if done badly. Here are some guidelines for group giving. (See also: 5 Reasons to Change Traditional Gift-Giving)

Be clear who is organizing the gift.

Too many cooks can spoil a sauce, so let one person handle the communications and payments.

Be sure the gift is something your friend or family member really wants.

Nothing's more anticlimactic than coordinating efforts between 20 people only to have the recipient open your gift on Christmas morning and sincerely say, "Oh, you shouldn't have."

Ask nicely.

Not everyone wants to contribute to your fancy present, no matter how great an idea it is. People may be strapped for cash, or planning their own gift, or simply not interested. Be sure that your invitation to chip in doesn't come off as a guilt trip.

Make it easy.

Set up a PayPal or other electronic account for people to send money to, or give them an address they can drop it off at. Choose the methods that work best for your group.

Plan ahead.

Especially at the holiday season, when everyone is gift shopping, it's important to let people know early if you want to do something as a group. It might be awesome to surprise Mom with a trip to Disney under her Christmas tree. But if you wait till Christmas Eve to ask your siblings to join you in paying for it, you'll find they've already done their shopping for the year.

What kind of gifts make good group presents? Anything that is valuable to the person getting it, spendy and not particularly intimate. You probably don't want to split the cost of a pair of earrings or a dinner out, for example. Laptops, vacations, art objects and hobby supplies all make great group gifts.

Put some thought, too, into who you want to team up with. Everyone on your birthday party invite list? Just your siblings to do something special for mom and dad?

In addition to giving people more valuable gifts, group gifts are a great choice for anyone interested in a "Green Christmas." Since you're giving only one gift, you're reducing demand for piles of cheap manufactured import goods, and putting your money into a quality product.

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Guest's picture

Group gift giving can be great -and it can be tricky. Three years ago, for my 30th birthday, I was the recipient of a fantastic group gift. The actual gift was extremely thoughtful and exciting, and none of my friends could have done it on their own. But, as I later found out, the plan for getting it was fairly last minute. And several people who were not asked to contribute got angry (and told me!) about not being asked - they wanted to be part of this amazing gift. I heard all about it from these people, and I didn't know what to say or do, since I hadn't planned it obviously. It was a bad situation for me - I felt annoyed that they complained to me, but I didn't feel right telling the original organizer about it. Ugh.

I think this is an aspect of group giving that is often overlooked - yes there will be people you ask who might feel obligated when they don't actually want to give - but there might also be others who feel left out if you don't ask for their contribution.

Guest's picture

I love this idea but have done a group gift in the past where I put the full amount on my charge card, but then had to nag some people for the money. In the ended I didn't get completely reimbursed. Just wondering how you organize this. Also read an article about how you can donate your rewards points to a combined gift or even to charity.

Guest's picture

Thanks for posting this - I purchased a group gift this year for my parents that was supposed to be from all of the kids, and so far only ONE sibling has paid her share. Keep in mind we stood in front of the tree on Xmas eve and announced that we'd ALL bought them this lovely gift, and yet my two other siblings have still not paid me one dime. I've sent one very nice email claiming that I was the one who forgot to collect the dough - and still nothing. I am unsure if I should just let this go or try to get more aggressive about getting paid from them.

Lesson here is: don't buy in advance; wait until everyone pays you and then buy the gift.

Financial Samurai's picture

The whole idea of buying something that expensive that it requires multiple contributions, to satiate a "I want" desire sounds wrong to me.

Want nothing, and you'll be the happiest person on earth!


Financial Samurai
"Slicing Through Money's Mysteries"

Guest's picture

My brother and I do this all the time. It's probaby easier between siblings. I always pick out a gift for my parents and he pays me half to put his name on it too.

Guest's picture

wow great ideas! what a great way to cut down on Christmas costs

Julie Rains's picture

Plan ahead is my favorite, as I have been asked to contribute to a gift weeks (sometimes days) after I have already done my shopping.

One way of making sure the money comes in as promised is to set a deadline and basic rule that the giver's name will be mentioned to the recipient; that may sound obvious and perhaps too business-like but sometimes organizers will say that the gift is from a group (the office, or the class, for example), which can be disappointing to those who donated and doesn't create any urgency for participants to pay on time.

For our sister site, Parenting Squad, I wrote about group giving for teachers, which is a good way to get something nice for very little individually.

Guest's picture

In my family there were 6 cousins, all around the same age, 7 aunts and uncles, a grandmother and 2 great aunts. Instead of each kid getting 10 small gifts, my grandmother would set out coffee cans with each of our names at her house. All the relatives added some money (cash only, so no one knew how much) and the parent of each kid picked up the can and bought the kid one great gift.

When we gathered on Christmas Eve, the kids would get to open their one gift first, and then played happily with it for the rest of the evening while the adults exchanged their gifts. To this day I can probably name each gift I received from ages 5-15 - it was always a memorable thing. My family wasn't very well-off, but this was a way to afford to give a kid something really special.

Guest's picture

If you're considering a group gift for this year, visit from: Everyone ( No more passing around the hat or running out to the store in search of the perfect gift. Organize, invite, collect, send, ONLINE - it really is that simple. And we don't hide anything - you pay a meager 10% service fee to us for making your life easy. So for a $10 contribution, we tag on a buck for our troubles (including packaging and shipping)- trust me, busy people know it's a dollar well spent! Paula Cho, Co-Founder

Guest's picture

Or so their blog says:

I thought this letter had an interesting twist on both how to combine forces to help give more useful and wanted gifts and how to give what amounts cash without causing problems for those who can afford less as well as still getting the satisfaction of knowing you helped give someone an actual thing.

Guest's picture
Sasha A. Rae

Using PayPal seems like a great way to make it easy and simple for people to chip in for a gift. Great idea!


Guest's picture

I have the perfect solution for group gifting: The Gifts Project enables friends to chip in for each others gift on Facebook. Go to and use coupon FLYD119 to get free coins to start with. It's a new FB app, but its really awesome because finally you can make a friends real happy on their special occasion!

Happy New Year